In the cabin
We obviously found a lot to like while driving the 2009 BMW 650i Convertible, and some of its cabin tech contributes to the experience. But we can't say that about the iDrive interface, which includes frustrations such as taking four control moves just to get a map displayed. Fortunately, BMW is in the process of radically updating this interface. We got our first taste of the new iDrive in the , and found it a vast improvement.
The navigation system in the 650i Convertible is a mixed bag. Being DVD-based, its response times are slow, which can make entering a street address particularly tedious as you wait for it to update a list of street or city names. But it has some nice features as well, such as live traffic with automatic detouring. It will look along a programmed route and alert you to any traffic slowdowns, and offer to find a detour.
We found that route guidance with this navigation system can be stubborn. We programmed in a destination, but decided we didn't want to take the route it offered. For the next 10 miles it tried to get us to use its original route, suggesting turns at every block. But we persisted, and it finally recalculated for the route we wanted.
This 650i Convertible came with a feature we hadn't seen from BMW before: lane departure warning. A button on the steering wheel lets you turn it on or off, and it shows up in both the instrument cluster and head-up display with a graphic showing lane lines. It only takes effect above 40 mph and will buzz the steering wheel if you cross a lane line without signaling. In practice, it generally worked well, although we did find a stretch where it was oversensitive, continually buzzing the wheel even though the car was in a proper lane. Pavement imperfections confused it.
Our 650i Convertible came with the Premium sound package, bundling a six-disc changer, iPod and USB port, and upgraded audio system. The 11 speakers of this Logic7 system produced above-average sound quality, and the amp, in typical BMW fashion, had plenty of power. The iPod interface suffers a little from the iDrive paradigm, but is generally workable.
We mentioned above how easy it is to pair a phone to this system. One particular feature we like about this phone support is that you can see your phone's contact list on the car's LCD, and choose people to call from there.
Under the hood
BMW's best tech comes in the power train and suspension. The engine is a 4.8-liter V-8 producing 360 horsepower and 360 pound-feet of torque. That those two numbers are equal is probably intentional on the part of BMW engineers. The engine benefits from BMW's unique throttle system, which uses valve lift to regulate engine speed rather than a conventional gas flow control.
That engine tuning moves the 650i Convertible from 0 to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds. Fuel economy is rated at 15 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. In our hands, the 650i turned in a very reasonable 19.4 mpg. We've seen similar fuel economy in many V-6 sedans and coupes.
The engine is attached to a six-speed automatic, with Sport mode and paddle shifters for its manual mode. A six-speed manual transmission is also available. We're not crazy about the push-and-pull paddle shifters used by BMW; they look more cosmetic than useful.
Cornering is aided by BMW's Active Roll Stabilization technology, which uses hydraulic antiroll bars to counter body roll in turns more effectively than fixed antiroll bars can. In our experience, this system works seamlessly, keeping the car very flat in corners while allowing a more comfortable drive on the freeway.
The 2009 BMW 650i Convertible comes in at a base price of $84,900. The main tech options in our car were the Premium sound package for $2,000 (essential because of the iPod support), the new Lane Departure Warning for $500, and the head-up display for $1,200. Navigation and Bluetooth phone support are included in the base price. Other options and the destination charge brought the total for our car up to $94,070. Although a high price, the 650i Convertible has more advanced performance technology than the $200,000 (still, the DB9 is a much better looking car).
In our ratings, we give the 650i Convertible top marks for performance technology. BMW engineering always impresses. Cabin tech gets downgraded a bit for the outdated navigation system. A hard drive-based nav system is part of BMW's upcoming cabin tech update. The 650i Convertible suffers the most in our design rating, both for the poor iDrive interface and the abysmal trunk lid.